Open Access News

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Undermining an important OA journal, from within

Revere, More trouble at NIEHS, Effect Measure, April 12, 2007.  Excerpt:

...The latest [Bush administration official] to stink the place up is Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the most public health oriented of all the NIH institutes. Or it used to be, as we noted in an earlier post. Under Director David Schwartz it was on its way to being the kind of harmless agency most congenial to the Bush administration. But the housekeepers have started to look under the bed at NIEHS, too. It's getting ugly.

The thin end of the wedge was Schwartz's attempt to privatize the Institute's flagship scientific publication, Environmental Health Perspectives, EHP. This is the world's premier environmental health journal and it is an Open Access journal, to boot. It publishes about 100 papers a year out of almost 1000 submissions, so it is highly selective. In the interests of full disclosure I have published there fairly often and also done peer review for them....But I think my concern is widely shared in the field of environmental health science. When Schwartz's plans to privatize EHP became known there was a vigorous and immediate pushback from the scientific community and he was forced to retreat. Last June he announced he had abandoned his plans to privatize the journal. But then he proceeded to outsource all its functions and this is where things got sticky....

[PS:  Omitting an excerpt from the Society of Environmental Journalists Tip Sheet.]

Understand that EHP has been straightforward in publishing important scientific articles on important environmental pollutants and most recently on climate change. Not the stuff to make the Bush administration and their allies in Congress feel warm and fuzzy toward it. Many think this is the real motive behind Schwartz's neutering job on the journal.

But now the wheels are starting to coming off the truck.... [Schwartz] is also gutting EHPs budget, despite claims of solid support. The former budget of $3 million is being slashed to $500,000, which the Tip Sheet wryly notes is half of what he spent to remodel his NIEHS Office on his arrival (after it had just been remodeled).

Now Congress is in on the act, with Representative Dennis Kucinich's Oversight Subcommittee (part of Henry Waxman's Oversight Committee) asking for many documents related to the EHP affair and Schwartz's own conduct as Director....

Update.  Cheryl Hogue has more in Chemical & Engineering News (April 11, 2007):

Two key members of the House of Representatives are asking the National Institutes of Health’s director to again suspend efforts to privatize its monthly journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences publishes EHP, an open-access journal of research and news on how pollution and other environmental agents impact human health. Many researchers in academia and the public health community oppose privatization of the popular publication.

In November 2006, NIEHS began requesting proposals to privatize the journal, but NIH shelved the plan in January after allegations of conflict of interest involving NIEHS Director David A. Schwartz. The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is investigating the situation, according to its chair, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

In an April 9 letter to NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, Waxman and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), chair of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, said they have learned that the National Library of Medicine is resurrecting the privatization plan.

Waxman and Kucinich asked Zerhouni to direct the National Library of Medicine to hold off on seeking bid proposals for privatizing EHP until the oversight panel finishes its investigation.

The American Chemical Society [PS: which publishes Chemical & Engineering News] previously had expressed interest in taking over EHP.

Update. For more detail, see J. Lowe in the Daily Kos, The Republican War on Science and Environmental Health Perspectives.